Bronco Ride Your Habits Away
Remember the cowboy movies where they jump on a bucking horse and ride it until it is “broken in?” That’s flooding. The horse is overwhelmed with stimuli, flooded with it, until it no longer has any effect.
If you are afraid of water, do you know anyone who advocates throwing you in the deep end of the pool? The idea is that you will be overcome your fear because you’re too busy trying to stay alive to be fearful.
This sink-or-swim advice is wrong.
First, it is unethical. You don’t have the right to decide for someone else how to proceed. You don’t have the right to force someone into the pool just because you are large enough to overpower them.
Second, it is ineffective. It is ineffective if applied to non-habits. Parents (doggie-parents) who let their child (or puppy) cry all night are using flooding. They believe that eventually the baby will get tired of crying and stop. But crying is not a habit. Applying flooding to non-habits is inappropriate. Children (and puppies) need to be taught to self-sooth.
Flooding is ineffective if applied to drugs. Some stop-smoking programs use fatigue (flooding). They have you light a cigarette and immediately put it out, repeatedly. Or they have you smoke a whole bowl full of cigarettes. The idea is that you will get so sick of the taste, you won’t want another cigarette. But they aren’t taking into account the impact nicotine has on the nervous system. Smoking isn’t just behavioral. It has a chemical influence as well. Stopping smoking isn’t the same as not drumming your fingers on the table.
At best, flooding has a temporary effect. If you do drum your fingers on the table, or something similar, try drumming purposefully for 10 minutes. See what happens.
In theory, fatigue causes chemical changes in the blood and muscles. By flooding you with stimuli, your muscles become too fatigued to respond, making it hard for conditioned responses to occur. Your brain wants to respond but your body can’t.
Alas, the fatigue method is not very effective. Once your hand has recovered, you will return to finger drumming in the future.
Applying It To Real Life
Keeping in mind that it probably won’t help much and applying only to yourself, let’s see how this would play out in real life.
If you are trying to lower your sugar intake, you could pretend you were an ice cream store. Ice cream stores often let their employees eat as much as they want, assuming they will get sick of it. You could stock your freezer with tons of ice cream. A more extreme version would be to eat gallons of your favorite ice cream at one sitting.
I don’t predict much success, and take no responsibility for your trying this technique. Aside from spiking your blood sugar, I suspect you’ll return to eating ice cream sooner than you predicted.
You had a better chance with the ice cream than applying flooding to intrusive thoughts. But some people advocate flooding to get rid of unwanted thoughts.
The ideas is that every time an unwanted image or thought intrudes, focus on it. Make every detail clear. Continue to think about it until it looses its power.
Before you try this, I will warn you that it might make things worse. The theory says you will reach a point of fatigue but in my experience many people never reach that point. Limit your experimentation to 2 or 3 days, then reevaluate.
The idea would be to try to multitask everything at the same time. Pull out all the stops (an organist reference).
Good luck with it. Let me know what happens.
Don’t bother. Flooding won’t make phobias better. Being thrown into a pool or forced to play with snakes won’t work.
And did I mention it is unethical?
There is a therapeutic intervention called flooding but has several aspects that differ from my description. First, it is done by a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. Second, it uses a hierarchy of fearful situations. Third, it uses an incompatible response (relaxation). Let’s wait to discuss its advantages and disadvantages when we get farther along.
Look at your list of three habits you want to change. Here is where to start:
Before you try any of the flooding techniques, begin tracks your habits. Count how many times each unwanted habit occurs. You don’t have to do anything else, just track it.
Knowing that flooding is unlikely to make a big difference, try it and see it makes a small difference. Pick one habit and give a whirl. Limit yourself to a day or two. Then run a little experiment.